(Bill Greene/Globe Staff)
By Jonathan Saltzman and Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff
Sandra Boss faced 15 years of her former husband's fantastic stories and outright lies today as she endured a withering cross examination in Suffolk Superior Court.
The man she knew as Clark Rockefeller told her of his $1 billion art collection. His belief that he may be appointed to the board of the Federal Reserve for his work with tiny nations struggling under crushing debt. The $50 million inheritance he said he spent to clear the name of his father, who had been posthumously accused of embezzling from the Navy. His claim that after spending nearly a decade as a mute because of a childhood accident, he one day saw a dog, said the word "woofness," and could suddenly speak.
Defense attorney Jeffrey Denner asked Boss how she could believe lie on top of lie. She was, after all, a graduate of Harvard Business School who at one point earned nearly $2 million a year working for a high-powered consulting firm that helps businesses solve problems.
"There is a difference between intellectual intelligence and emotional intelligence," Boss said. "I'm not saying I made a very good choice of husband. It's pretty obvious that I had a blind spot. All I'm saying is that it's possible that one can be brilliant and amazing in one area of one's life and pretty stupid in another."
The riveting, two hours of cross-examination explored the most poignant question of the trial, how a woman of Boss's stature and education could be duped for long by Rockefeller's outrageous stories. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to kidnapping the couple's 7-year-old daughter, Reigh, last summer after a bitter divorce and custody dispute. Prosecutors say he is really a Bavarian con man named Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, 48, who has used a slew of aliases to ingratiate himself in aristocratic circles.
Despite her successful business career, Boss described feeling trapped in an unhappy and often abusive 13-year marriage. When they were living in Cornish, N.H., Boss said, "the defendant declined to provide me enough to eat" and left their home with little heat.
Boss did not file for divorce, however, because she said that Rockefeller controlled their bank accounts and she did not have money to hire a lawyer. The defense pointed out that at the time Boss was earning $40,000 a week and commuted every week to New York City, where she lived in an apartment.
"You mistakenly confuse power with money," Boss told Denner. "It is not the same thing."
The defense attorney countered: "You could have cut off his personal power the moment you cut off the finances."
"I think you need to remember there was another person involved here," Boss retorted. "Where would Reigh be the day I did that?"
The testimony of Boss added to Rockefeller's growing reservoir of fantastic stories. Aside from his connections to the storied Rockefeller family, however, Boss said that her husband saved his tallest tales for others.
"This was not a person who was actively pumping himself up to me, and over the years he was very careful not to," Boss said. "A lot of the grandiose stories he told were not to me."
There were some exceptions. For example, when they met, he told Boss that his mother was Mary Roberts, a woman from northern Virginia who was killed in a car accident with his father when he was 18. Suddenly in 2002 or 2003, however, Rockefeller told her that his mother was Ann Carter, the childhood actress, but that she still died in a car crash.
"I really thought I had misremembered," Boss said, acknowledging that she later learned that Ann Carter was still alive.
Boss also described a web of creative, lower-level lies that enabled her spouse to hide his true identity. She acknowledged in her testimony that she never saw her husband's name on a birth certificate, bank account, Social Security card, school diploma, or medical records. Rockefeller told her that he did not have a driver's license because he had an eye ailment and could not operate a vehicle. He had no need for a passport because an ear problem prevented him from flying.
"I come from a place where people don't jaywalk; it's a very honest place," said Boss, who grew up in Seattle, Wash. "It had never in my entire life occurred to me I could be living with someone who was lying about such basic stuff."
Rockefeller corroborated certain details from his past, Boss said. A woman named Karen Leonard claimed she knew him at Yale University, where he lied about matriculating in 1978 at age 18. Lots of people from museums stopped by his apartment in New York to ogle his artwork and they were impressed, Boss told the jury without being more specific.
"I thought the art was real," Boss said. "Most people thought the art was real."
Most important, however, Boss rejected the defense's claim that an underlying mental illness motivated Rockefeller's behavior.
"I saw a lot of obsessive compulsive behavior," Boss said. "I saw a lot of anger. I saw an absence of empathy, and I could tell you that the defendant was not always truthful."
Boss continued,"I firmly believe, given the meticulous care that the defendant took to maintaining a variety of different worlds, that he was completely clear and knew what he was doing.
"He was not delusional."
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